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Friday, April 23, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr Shakespeare

Four hundred and forty six years ago, William Shakespeare was born in 1564 and fifty two years later he died in 1616. His work changed my life and has helped define me as a teacher.

I don't remember ever studying Shakespeare in high school. I was first acquainted with his work when I was serving in Vietnam. I strolled into the USO and was searching for a book to read from its library. I was drawn to a slim book and pulled it from the shelf. It was Troilus and Cressida. I loved the books and it was so appropriate for my current condition. That play became a major focus for me in college. I wrote three major papers on that play. I studied as much Shakespeare as I could. The first performance I saw was Henry IV, part 1. When I became a teacher I concentrated on using the comedies because they have happy endings, involve first loves, have teachers, and had young people in conflict with their parents. I resisted using the classic high school canon of tragic plays: Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, and Macbeth. I have always been confused as to why these plays are high school fare. I far prefer Midsummer Night's Dream, As You Like It, Comedy of Errors, Taming of the Shrew, and Tempest.

I taught a Shakespeare class to seniors. We read four comedies and then performed one of the them. The key for me was Shakespeare had to be seen, performed, not just read. The students and the school loved it. Juniors who became seniors asked about being in the class each year. In 1986, I was fortunate to win a scholarship to study Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon. That entire experience was mind blowing. I saw Troilus and Cressida at the Barbicon in London as well as The first performance of Two Noble Kinsmen in Stratford. I also saw Jeremy Irons in Winter's Tale and Romeo and Juliet. I read all of his plauys and sonnets that summer. I earned the title of Shakespeare Scholar.

As I did more with technology, Shakespeare instruction faded, but never left me. I have used Tempest as a crucial play of transition to the "brave new world" of technology in the classroom. I always wake up real early on a beautiful summer day, ride my bike to Central Park and join a line for free tickets to see the current Shakespeare play being offered by Papp's Public Theater. Whenever a play is shown in New York or in London during our annual Christmas Trip, we see it.

This summer I am spending two weeks in London and returning to Stratford after 24 years, to see the Shakespeare at the Globe and at the temporary theater in Stratford. Next year should be special when the newest Shakespeare play, Double Falsehood, will open the new Swan.

In tribute to the effect Shakespeare has had on me, I pierced my left ear and put a small gold hoop in to honor the man for his work and his life and its effect on me.

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